I am grateful for libraries. They are, in a sort of a way, a museum of the written word, the collections stacked on a shelf waiting to be remembered. I feel more knowledgeable merely by entering a library and even more so when I sink deep into a soft chair and look like I belong there, like this particular spot was mine alone.
“Oh, excuse me,” the person rising out of the chair would say if I came in unannounced. “This is your seat.” I’d smile an understanding sort of smile, with a hint of tolerance. “Yes, it is,” my smile would say. This is after all, my library.
That’s the thing about libraries: they belong to each of us, personally, deeded to us by their very nature. The Public Library is a building where life, past present and future, hums on the shelves and is inside electronic media and on microfiche, just waiting to propel us anywhere we imagine. A library card is a safe-passage ticket to the universe.
Sometimes I like to curl up in a comfy chair at the library and hold a book tight to my chest as if its story might soak through my skin and change the way I look at things. Or I like to spread my work out on one of the tables and imagine that I am writing logarithms or jotting down the philosophies of Socrates and Plato and I’m not even sure what the philosophies of Socrates and Plato are but I’d jot them down just the same.
I like to visit the library of any town or city I am in; the smaller and older the building, the better. I am humbled by the library’s history, realize my own insignificance as I stare at the rows and rows of books and the archives of births and deaths and marriages and all the endless data stored there.
Libraries are an institution woven so tightly within the fabric of society that we have come to take them for granted. Apparently, the public library was an American idea with the first town library established in Boston in 1636. In Canada, the nod goes to Quebec City in 1779 for the country’s first publicly funded library. The key component to the policies of The Public Libraries Act was to create the opportunity for learning to be made available to all residents. We can thank Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American philanthropist who funded 2509 libraries built around the world with 125 built in Canada. He preferred the design of large stairs leading to the door. Above the door of his first library was inscribed, “Let There Be Light”.
I remember best the library of my childhood: the old library in Fort Frances built with Andrew Carnegie funds, the children’s section downstairs. Mrs. Mason set aside for me any story with a horse in it. I stretched out on the floor and put the books up to my nose to smell the story before I began to read. I remember the book mobile coming to Alberton Central School two or three times a year and I crossed my fingers and squeezed tight my eyes hoping I would be one of the lucky to choose six titles for my classroom. If I was one of the fortunate, someone always hollered, “Don’t just get horse stories,” in an almost begging tone, and if I wasn’t one of the lucky ones then someone would usually remember my passion and choose at least one horse-themed title in respect of my single-minded passion in reading.
I’ve had several short stories published in various literary journals and compilations of short stories. I wonder if someday, years and years from now, someone will pick something off the shelf and read the words of Wendi Stewart and be changed in some positive and profound way and maybe she will wonder who I was.